Good morning. It’s Friday. We’ll see why a coalition from across the city is challenging streeteries. We’ll also look at a program that makes art accessible and is settling into a new home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
The coronavirus pandemic drove restaurants and their customers outside, onto sidewalks and into streets. Should they remain there?
It’s not a new question. But a coalition of opponents is trying a different approach, accusing Mayor Eric Adams of executive overreach in keeping outdoor dining going.
The coalition — Cue-Up, an alliance of community groups whose full name is the Coalition United for Equitable Urban Policy — contends that the city’s open restaurant program is the only pandemic-era initiative still covered by an executive order from City Hall.
Michael Sussman, a lawyer for Cue-Up, said the original order was issued in mid-2020 when Bill de Blasio was mayor. It expired after a few days. De Blasio issued one renewal after another until his term ended at the end of last year. Adams, who succeeded de Blasio, has followed suit.
But Sussman said that “there is no public health emergency” anymore, because the city has dropped the other pandemic provisions covered by the original order and the renewals, including vaccine requirements, mask rules and the Covid test-and-trace program. Each renewal now serves only the outdoor dining sheds, he said.
Adams on Monday described himself as “a big supporter of outdoor dining.” “Whatever I can do to help our restaurant industry that employs dishwashers, waiters, bus boys and girls — this is an important industry, and it is an indicator of our city,” he said at a news briefing. “And so the lawsuit is going to play itself out.” He did not address the issue of executive power; a City Hall spokesman did not respond about that element of the lawsuit on Thursday.
The city allowed restaurants and bars to move outside as an emergency measure to help a devastated industry, which employed as many as 340,000 people before the pandemic closed in and restaurants closed down, many for good. The restaurant industry now employs about 290,000, said Andrew Rigie, the executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, a trade group that has pressed to make the outdoor facilities permanent.
Adams acknowledged at the briefing Monday that “some of the outdoor dining locations have become a hazard” and were “not suitable.” He said outdoor dining structures “can’t be used for storage” or other purposes. “And I think there’s a way to modify, to standardize, what the structure should look like,” he said.
The Cue-Up lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, was the group’s second effort to block the city’s push to make dining sheds permanent. The first ended with an order from Justice Frank Nervo of State Supreme Court in Manhattan that directed the city to conduct a thorough environmental review, something Cue-Up had demanded. The city has appealed his order.
Filed with the second lawsuit were more than 30 affidavits from people in every borough but Staten Island who said that streeteries have hurt the quality of life in their neighborhoods.
“Where I used to be able to smell the trees as I walk my dog, it now smells like decay and urine,” Angela Bilotti, who has lived in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn since 1994, said in one affidavit.
She also complained that streeteries had made the neighborhood noisy. “One restaurant owner told a neighbor she’s conducting business, so just close their windows,” Bilotti said.
“That neighbor moved away” because of the noise, she said.
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A new home for community-based artistic ventures
Risë Wilson started out looking for a laundromat, but not for love of laundry. She had an idea about making art accessible to neighbors in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.
“I realized the laundromat is this incredibly democratic de facto community,” she told our writer Hilarie M. Sheets.
She incorporated her nonprofit in 2005 as the Laundromat Project to support art projects in underserved areas, “not just for delight and play but as this political tool,” she said. “Art has always been part of movements for Black liberation.”
But the grant money she had received was not enough to buy a laundromat, so the LP, as the organization became known, switched to a decentralized mode, backing artists in communities of color across the city’s five boroughs. The projects were staged in local cultural venues, in parks and plazas and on streets, as well as in laundromats.
Wilson turned over the leadership of LP to Kemi Ilesanmi in 2012, and since then, LP has directly invested in more than 80 public art projects and 200-plus multidisciplinary artists. And, after working from temporary offices on the Lower East Side and then Harlem and the South Bronx, LP has returned to Bedford-Stuyvesant, taking a 10-year lease on a storefront on Fulton Street. It will inaugurate its first public space with an open house on Saturday.
There’s a celestial landscape by the Bed-Stuy-based artist Destiny Belgrave, the first artist selected through the LP’s open call for a new annual commission. There’s also space for exhibitions and public gatherings, as well as a communal administrative office for the dozen or so staff members that is decorated with limited-edition prints from artists including Nina Chanel Abney, Derrick Adams, Xaviera Simmons and Mickalene Thomas.
Last year the LP received an unexpected gift, $2 million from the philanthropist MacKenzie Scott — as much as the LP’s annual operating budget. Ilesanmi and the LP’s deputy director, Ayesha Williams, decided to give away $200,000 immediately, making $10,000 awards to five former partner organizations around the city and $500 grants to every current and former LP artist and staff member.
Ilesanmi and Williams have established an investment policy for the remaining money with financial institutions like Brooklyn Cooperative, a credit union serving local Black-owned small businesses and homeowners. According to 2020 census figures, Bed-Stuy lost more than 22,000 Black residents over the previous decade and gained more than 30,000 white residents.
“One of the things that happens with gentrification is that POC organizations get displaced along with the people,” Ilesanmi said. “So being part of the community, having a 10-year horizon on this space and a gift that builds intergenerational wealth for the organization just moves your head up in a different way.”
I had just moved to New York from Texas, and I loved going to the city’s small neighborhood grocery stores. They were so different from the great big suburban ones I was used to.
One day, I went to Grace’s Marketplace on the Upper East Side and I overheard a customer questioning the man behind the counter.
“Do you have fresh escargot?” the customer said.
“No,” the counterman said. “But we have snails in a can!”
— Kate Marcus